Background: The practice of exclusive breastfeeding is still low despite the associated benefits. Improving the uptake and appropriating the benefits will require an understanding of breastfeeding as an embodied experience within a social context. This study investigates breastfeeding practices and experiences of nursing mothers and the roles of grandmothers, as well as the work-related constraints affecting nurses in providing quality support for breastfeeding mothers in Southwest Nigeria.
Methods: Using a concurrent mixed method approach, a structured questionnaire was administered to 200 breastfeeding mothers. In-depth interviews were also held with breastfeeding mothers (11), nurses (10) and a focus group discussion session with grandmothers.
Results: Breastfeeding was perceived as essential to baby's health. It strengthens the physical and spiritual bond between mothers and their children. Exclusive breastfeeding was considered essential but demanding. Only a small proportion (19%) of the nursing mothers practiced exclusive breastfeeding. The survey showed the major constraints to exclusive breastfeeding to be: the perception that babies continued to be hungry after breastfeeding (29%); maternal health problems (26%); fear of babies becoming addicted to breast milk (26%); pressure from mother-in-law (25%); pains in the breast (25%); and the need to return to work (24%). In addition, the qualitative findings showed that significant others played dual roles with consequences on breastfeeding practices. The desire to practice exclusive breastfeeding was often compromised shortly after child delivery. Poor feeding, inadequate support from husband and conflicting positions from the significant others were dominant constraints. The nurses decried the effects of their workload on providing quality supports for nursing mothers.
Conclusion: Breastfeeding mothers are faced with multiple challenges as they strive to practice exclusive breastfeeding. Thus, scaling up of exclusive breastfeeding among mothers requires concerted efforts at the macro, meso and micro levels of the Nigerian society.